Consumer Protection, Internet Style:

by on August 25, 2009 · 19 comments

Our job here at TLF is generally to talk about policy as opinion leaders, but I tend to be a little campaign-y sometimes. When I see something I don’t like, I’ll use this platform to sound off about it.

It appears that engages in a shady practice: handing customers who accept a “special offer” from them to a company that charges people a monthly fee for what appears to be some kind of credit monitoring service. There are write-ups of varying depth and quality here, here, here, and here.

Question: Does the Internet provide enough feedback to suppress this practice? How could the e-commerce ecosystem be changed to alert people about this kind of thing ahead of time?

Being a smart, informed, and aggressive consumer is each person’s responsibility if a free market is to operate well. The alternative is a negative feedback loop in which government authorities protect us, we rely on that protection and stop policing retailers. Thereby we abandon the field of consumer protection to government authorities, who—try as they might—can never do as good a job for us as we can for ourselves.

Should we each run a “scam” search on new online businesses before we deal with them? Maybe so. But that’s a little clunky. With the popularity of Firefox plug-ins for problem solving around here, maybe one of the consumer review/complaint sites could develop a plug-in to provide people reviews of a retailer as they visit the site.

I hope that prompting a conversation around the apparent credit card ripoff scam will alert savvy shoppers to a risk of doing business with them. (For the sake of searchability, feel free to blog a little bit yourself about the apparent ProFlowers credit card ripoff scam.) Perhaps this discussion will also generate a systemic fix that preempts shady dealings of the type alleged here.

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